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roasted turkey in a pan of greenery
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4.20 from 5 votes

Perfect Roast Turkey

Our perfect roast turkey is an easy recipe for beginners that want to cook a whole turkey in a roasting pan with a homemade rack for Thanksgiving.  It shows you what herbs are best for seasoning a bird so your unstuffed turkey comes out moist when cooked in your kitchen oven.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time3 hrs 20 mins
Total Time3 hrs 40 mins
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Keyword: How to cook a turkey in the oven to be moist, leftover turkey recipes
Servings: 14 servings
Calories: 477kcal
Author: Brooke


For the Turkey

  • 14 pound turkey fully thawed
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter softened
  • teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups chicken broth

For the Aromatics

  • 2 carrots cut in 1 ½ chunks
  • 1 onion cut in quarters
  • handful of celery leaves



  • Allow 4 days for it to defrost in the refrigerator for a 15 pound bird. (24 hours for every 5 pounds.) It's safe to allow one extra day for it to totally thaw.
  • Take the thawed bird out of the fridge so it can warm up to room temperature.  This can take 1 hour.
  • Remove packaging plus the plastic clamp from the legs and discard. Remove the neck, giblets (heart, liver, gizzard) and possibly a gravy bag from the body or neck cavity.  You can throw them out or keep them for giblet gravy or giblet stuffing.
  • Skip the rinsing (unless you brined your turkey.) The FDA doesn't recommend rinsing because it could spread potentially harmful bacteria up to 3 feet around your kitchen from tiny droplets of water that splash off. Instead place it breast side up on a baking tray and pat the cavity and outside dry with paper towels. Allow the skin to dry out for crispier skin.
  • If you don't have a roasting rack, make your own with foil.  Take a long sheet of aluminum foil and roll it up tightly from one of its long sides to make a snake.  Cut two more sheets of foil and wrap them tightly around the snake to make a firm rope.  The snake needs to be able to support a 14-pound turkey without flattening.  Shape the coil into a lowercase "e" shape and place in the roasting pan. Some other ideas are root vegetables (carrots, onions, and potatoes) or foil-covered paving bricks.

Preparing the Oven & Aromatics

  • Lower the oven rack to the bottom, or second from the bottom.  This helps the turkey roast in the center of the oven. Place an oven proof thermometer inside the oven to get a more accurate reading. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  • Center the turkey on the rack and in the roasting pan for the best air circulation. Make sure the breast side is up and the drumsticks are up. Rub kosher salt and black pepper in the cavity before placing the aromatics (onion, carrots, and celery leaves) or fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary, bay leaves) or quartered fruit (apples, lemons) inside the cavity.  The aromatics will flavor it from the inside, but will be thrown out after it's roasted.  Crumple up a piece of foil to cover the cavity opening or skip down to truss the cavity.

Last-Minute Touches

  • Rub the skin all over with softened butter.  Make sure the skin is dry; otherwise the butter (oil or duck fat) won't stick. Generously sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper to help add extra flavor.
  • If you want to truss the cavity, tuck in the tail, pull the skin in place with the kitchen twine, cotton thread, toothpicks or a wooden skewer. (Optional. For ease, we skipped this step and used crumpled up foil to cover the opening.)
  • Cross the legs and tie the drumstick ends tightly together. Tuck the wings under the body, for a more compact look, or if you prefer, bring the twine under the wings to lift them up higher so they can brown better.  Tie the twine in a knot at the neck opening.  This helps the wings stay out of the liquid, allows them to brown nicely and helps the turkey keep a compact shape.
  • Pour 2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock into the roasting pan.


  • Place the bird uncovered in the oven with the drumsticks facing the back. Decrease the oven temperature to 350° F.
  • Roast the turkey for 1 ½ hours.  Using a turkey baster, spoon or pastry brush, baste the drippings all over the turkey.  You can use the pan drippings, melted butter, olive oil, or melted duck fat. Do this at the 1 ½ hour mark and every 30 minutes afterward until it's done.  Each time it's basted, place the drumsticks facing the left one time, then the right the next time.  Don't put the breast facing the back of the oven, as it will dry out the meat.  (A 14-pound turkey would be basted a maximum of 5 times: 1 ½ hours, 2 hours, 2 ½ hours, 3 hours, and when it comes out of the oven.)  If the turkey is browning too quickly, cover loosely with foil.
  • Roast the turkey for 13 minutes per pound.  A 14-pound turkey will take just over 3 hours.  Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature in the deepest part of the thigh away from any bones.  The temperature should read 165°F, and the juices should be clear when the thermometer is pulled out. Factor in the carry-over cooking where the internal temperature will increase roughly 10 degrees. Check food safety guidelines from the USDA for more info.
  • Save the pan juices to make homemade giblet gravy.

Resting the Turkey

  • Let the turkey rest, breast side up, on a large cutting board with grooves or on a tray with sides for 30-60 minutes.  Tent the turkey loosely with foil.  When it rests, the internal temperature of the thighs will continue to rise to 175°F - this is called carry-over cooking.  The resting time allows the juices to redistribute, so the turkey will be more moist.  Check the temperature again after 10 minutes. The turkey will release juices onto the cutting board during this resting time.
  • Before serving, remove the kitchen twine. To make a pretty presentation, place the bird on a large platter and arrange with kale, lemon wedges, orange peel slices, cranberries and fresh sage leaves.
  • Carve the turkey in this order: legs, wishbone, ½ inch breast meat, separate the drumsticks from the thighs, debone and carve the thigh meat, remove the wings and separate the wing tip, wingette and drumette.  Keep the carcass for turkey stock, bone broth, or turkey soup.
  • Don't keep the cooked turkey at room temperature for more than 2 hours.  Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers. 
  • Serve the turkey warm with gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and other traditional Thanksgiving side dishes.


  • Let it warm up to room temperature for 1 hour before roasting.
  • Put the oven rack at the bottom.  It should roast in the center of the oven.
  • Rub the patted dry cavity with kosher salt and stuff it with aromatics to flavor the meat from the inside out.
  • Rub the skin all over with butter and kosher salt for crispy golden skin.
  • Roast it with the drumsticks at the back of the oven for the first hour and a half.
  • Baste it with pan juices or brush with melted butter.
  • Tent the bird with foil and let it rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour before carving.  This will let the juices redistribute.


Calories: 477kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 70g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 237mg | Sodium: 526mg | Potassium: 768mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 1688IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 42mg | Iron: 3mg